Although I may have “Dr” in front of my name now, it wasn’t long ago that I was a medical student myself. In fact, two years ago I was walking into a clinic for the first time. I remember how nerve-racking it was, especially when everything seemed so new. During this period I’d ask supervisors for feedback and one of the main things I was told was that I needed to be more confident. This is not an uncommon problem, especially for students. Luckily, there were steps I was able to take to improve myself over time, that I think you may find helpful too!
Be proactive about introducing yourself
First and foremost is to be proactive about introducing yourself when you’re put in a new group of people. As a student, you’re often assigned to a medical team that has already been working together and know each other well. It’s tempting to sit in a corner and wait for someone to notice you first, but it's better to take the initiative and say something like “I don’t mean to interrupt, but just wanted to introduce myself...” Making good eye contact and shaking hands with everyone is often a great way to confidently make your presence known on day 1.
Think about body language
Like it or not, a large portion of human interaction is non-verbal. Furthermore, a huge factor of how people assess us comes from our body language. How we hold ourselves is perceived to reveal our inner feelings and self-confidence. For example, I used to have a BAD habit of fidgeting - with my jewelry, hair ect. This combined with poor posture could come across as nervousness. One trick I was told for good posture was when standing, imagine a string pulling your head up toward the sky. By having an open body posture like this (shoulders back, head up, feet firmly planted on the ground), you’re communicating to the people around you that you are confident in yourself, which is important as a healthcare professional.
Push yourself outside of your comfort zone
This is a time of your life for growth and discovery, so naturally a lot of what you’re learning to do will feel difficult at first. It’s important now more than ever to continually push yourself outside of your comfort zone for a couple reasons. For one- by doing whatever’s intimidating you, you’ll find it less intimidating over time. Additionally- by doing the task repeatedly, you’ll learn by repetition!
Dress in a way that makes you feel confident
If you dress well, you will feel presentable and ready to rock the day. There has even been studies showing how clothes positively affect the wearers’ thought process. For example, one 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology showed that (non-doctor) subjects who wore white coats scored higher on attention-related tasks than did those who did not. However, clothes don't just make a difference in how we view ourselves, it also gives us a more professional appearance which helps our patients to have confidence in us.
Put a little time every day into bettering yourself.
When I first started clinical rotations as opposed to classroom learning, I quickly realized the “testing” was less formal in nature. Rather than multiple choice exams, I would be asked how to work-up a patient and my thought process behind my answers. As a student, it’s critical to be an active learner and recognize gaps in your knowledge. Remembering what you didn't know earlier in the day and looking it up at the end will help you feel more comfortable and ready to face the next day head on. No matter how busy I get, this is one habit I hope to continuing doing!
Believe in yourself!
You may have heard it before, but try focusing on positive affirmations and minimizing negative thinking. It’s easier said than done, but helps so much! Thoughts like “my career is over if I get a bad grade in ____!” will only hurt your confidence. Instead, try to think logically about the situation- following the same example, would one bad grade really be the end of your career? You are likely not giving yourself enough credit for all the things you’ve accomplished up to that point. Training to work in the medical field is a marathon, not a sprint. The only way you can make it is to be your own cheerleader, and to know that you CAN and WILL do this!
About the author:
Dr. Dana Brems is a Podiatric Surgical Resident at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. She graduated from Western University of Health Science in May 2019, and is thrilled to be entering the next stage in her training. Outside of the hospital, she has a personal interest in health and fitness. Follow Dana on Instagram!